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Kids join hunt for Strep A sore throat vaccine

Sarah Booth, July 31, 2022 3:00PM Kids News

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Thomas Cross, 6, and sister Emily, 9, are part of a trial to find a vaccine for Strep A, an infection that causes sore throats and leads to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. Picture: Jake Nowakowski media_cameraThomas Cross, 6, and sister Emily, 9, are part of a trial to find a vaccine for Strep A, an infection that causes sore throats and leads to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

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These Melbourne siblings could one day help save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Emily, 9, and Thomas, 6, have signed up for a study into sore throats in children, in a bid to help ­develop a Strep A vaccine.

Researchers want more than 1000 Melbourne and Perth children to volunteer, so they can learn more about an infection that leads to 500,000 deaths around the globe every year.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute project leader Andrew Steer said it would be “amazing” to one day produce a vaccine, helped by information gained in this study.

“Understanding sore throat in Victoria and in Perth will be a really important first step in our efforts to eventually develop a vaccine,” he said.

“A vaccine for Strep A will save hundreds of thousands of lives every year and prevent millions of infections that send children and adults to the hospital or doctor.”

Male pediatrician examining little child patient’s throat at clinic media_cameraThe Strep A bacteria is responsible for millions of infections that send children and adults to hospital or the doctors. Picture: iStock

Associate Professor Steer said Strep A was the most common bacterial* cause of a sore throat, with almost every child infected, and could be treated with antibiotics.

“But when left untreated it can become life-threatening if the bacteria* invades the body’s bloodstream, muscles or lungs,” he said.

“Strep A causes a big burden of disease around the world.”

The one-year study, led by the Murdoch Children’s and Telethon Kids institutes, involves three visits from the research team and can be done from the comfort of home.

Prof Steer said that following the success of rapid antigen tests, parents would also be asked to swab their children’s throat when it felt sore throughout the year and perform a finger prick blood test.

“We’re really excited about this aspect,” he said. “I think we’re doing things differently than we would have done prior to the pandemic.”

Strep Throat Study media_cameraThomas and Emily Cross will be visited by researchers three times and have throat swabs and finger prick tests whenever they get a sore throat over the next year. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

He said a vaccine would help reduce rheumatic* heart disease, a deadly complication which disproportionately* affects Indigenous communities in Northern Australia.

A vaccine would also help combat* antibiotic* ­resistance*. The more antibiotics people take the less effective they become because the infections get better at resisting the antibiotic medications.

“Sore throat is the most common reason for people getting a prescription for an antibiotic at the general practitioner,” Prof Steer said.

“To be able to reduce antibiotic prescriptions would take a lot of pressure off that antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a huge issue around the world.”

Mum Barbara Cross said she was motivated to sign up Emily and Thomas for the study after some of their friends were hospitalised with Strep A complications.

“(They) became ­extremely ill, requiring medically induced comas*, exploratory surgery* and extended hospital stays,” she said.

“I feel so lucky every day that, at this point in time, my kids are healthy.

“Taking part in this study is a small way we can help others avoid the trauma we saw our friends experience.”

GLOSSARY

  • bacterial: to do with bacteria
  • bacteria: a group of single-celled, microscopic organisms, some of which can cause disease
  • rheumatic: to do with or caused by rheumatism, which is a variety of conditions causing inflammation or pain in muscles, joints or tissues
  • disproportionately: too large or too small in comparison to something else
  • combat: take action to reduce or prevent
  • antibiotic: a type of medicine that prevents the growth of or destroys microorganisms
  • resistance: the ability not to be affected by something
  • medically induced comas: where the body is deliberately put into a state of deep unconsciousness to allow it to rest and heal
  • exploratory surgery: surgery done to investigate possible causes of an illness

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many children do the researchers need to recruit for the study?
  2. Which two institutes are conducting the study?
  3. How many deaths worldwide does Strep A infection lead to?
  4. Sore throat is the most common reason people get a prescription for what type of medication?
  5. What is the problem with taking this type of medication?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Make a flyer
Make an information flyer to let potential volunteers know about this study. You should tell them why the study is important and what is involved in participating.

Tip: Think about your audience – will you aim your flyer towards children who might choose to participate or their parents?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science

2. Extension
Would you be prepared to participate in a study like this one? Write an explanation for why you would or wouldn’t be involved.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social Capability; Ethical Understanding

VCOP ACTIVITY
Not just a sore throat
Emily and Thomas are going to be involved in a fantastic research project. Would you be willing to commit to a year of throat swabs and finger prick tests every time you get a sore throat if it went towards developing a vaccine?

Write a letter to your parent or carer convincing them why you should or should not be involved in the study.

Don’t forget to use emotive and persuasive language, as well as openers that connect your thoughts and ideas together.

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